A Mistaken Changeling

A lot of folklore and witch stories are written in a way that it is hard to empathise with those involved, but here’s an item which raises a lot of modern issues, from BBC History Magazine, an article by Richard Sugg on ‘Fear of Fairies.

Probably the most notorious Irish case took place in Ballyvdlea, near Clonmel. In March 1895 Michael Cleary became convinced that his wife, 26-year-old Bridget, was a fairy changeling, reportedly on account of nervous problems she was suffering at this time. So convinced was Cleary that he declared the ‘changeling’ to be two inches taller than his real wife.

After a number of violent tests, Michael’s accomplices – including relatives and ‘fairy doctor’ Denis Ganey – decided that Bridget was indeed the Real Bridget. However, Michael was unconvinced, and threw lamp oil over his wife, burning her to death. For three nights afterwards he went with  knife to ‘the fairy hill’ in hope of having Bridget returned to him. At the subsequent trial his initial sentence of death was commuted to imprisonment on the grounds that Cleary genuinely believed Bridget to have been a changeling.

Most stories where witches/changelings are accused show no presence of voices of reason, but here they are definitely trying to bring logic to Michael. The story also shows its age by the absence of any psychiatric advice. It’s all about belief and law.

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